Monday, August 3, 2015

Wearing My "You hate me!" Badge of Honor

One box.
Two box.
Red box.
Blue box.

After weeks of packing, hauling our things from one place to another, unpacking, and sorting through boxes, the girls and I came to our breaking point.
We needed a brain break, and we needed one now.
Thankfully we moved just up the street from a great park, and the girls had been begging to walk there all week. But there'd been boxes, and meetings, and appointments, and driving. Lots of driving.
Finally, we'd moved around enough boxes, met all our appointment requirements, and drove all the places we needed to. We headed to the park.

After running around the play structure playing Rapunzel, and wowing the other kids with our gymnastic feats (yes, 'our'. I can't let the girls be the only one to have all the fun), Annabelle soon became weary.

"Let's go back home!" she begged.

"No, Annabelle! I want to stay here!" Eleanor countered.

"But I'm tiiiirrrreeed," Annabelle whined, with a whine that I knew meant one thing. Trouble was brewing.

I made the executive decision to sit down on a bench with Annabelle to let Eleanor play more.

A win-win, right?

But somehow, even with what I thought to be 'the perfect compromise,' the sister fights began in earnest.

"Don't play with this balloon while I'm swinging, AnnaBELLE."

Plays with balloon. Gets caught.

"You can't touch that!"

Continues to play with balloon

"Why are you still touching my balloon?"

"You can't tell me what to dooooooo!"

"Yes, I can! It's my balloon

After a few minutes of this back and forth battle Annabelle melted down and began licking, biting, and scratching me. Yes, you heard me right. It's. . . something we're working on. After a time-out, yelling at me, “You hate me! You’re just so mean,” and then calming down and apologizing for the afore-mentioned lioness behavior, it was time to walk back home.

Walking through the park, we found a deliciously large chair to climb upon and Eleanor begged, "Take pictures of us with this chair, Mom!"

Indeed, what a great photo opportunity, I thought to myself. So I began to snap pictures. But it went from this:

to this, faster than I could say, "Don't attack your sister!"

Needless to say, Annabelle went on yet another time out.
"You hate me, don't you?" Annabelle screamed at me.
"No, I love you too much to let you treat us like this. You have to learn to be kinder. To use your words to tell us how you feel. I love you too much to not put you on time out for this behavior."

"No! You hate me!"

"I love you. I'll always love you, no matter what," I replied back calmly - as I always do in such situations.

After the timer buzzed, dismissing Annabelle from her time-out, she made amends with us for her behavior. Eleanor begged, "Let's take some pictures together, Mom!”

Annabelle screamed and ran away, "No! I don't want to be in any pictures!"

"That's fine, you don't have to be in any pictures, honey," I called out after her.

So, Eleanor and I began happily taking pictures of just the two of us.
But man, it's hard getting just the right angle for the perfect 'usie' AMIRITE?



Wait. What? Who is that in the background?
Gotta love the angry photobomber.
The grumpster who didn't want to take pictures, but also didn't want to be left out.
Man, it's hard being five.

We turned off the camera, satisfied with our usie-taking, and ready to return home.  As we were about to leave, a little girl, who I'm guessing to also be around five, dashed into the park where she walked with her mom and brother down the nearby sidewalk (which you can see in the last picture above). She made a bee-line for the playground.

"Nickie*, get back over here, now!" the mother yelled.

Nickie looked longingly at the park, back at her mom, then back at the playground before walking with heavy feet to her mom.

SWACK! SWACK! "Don't you ever," SWACK!" "run away from me" SWACK! "like that again," SWACK! "you hear me?" SWACK!

Both girls looked at me with wide eyes as we overheard the mother's angry yelling and the loud swacking Nickie had just received right behind us. I looked back at the girls with my own expression of horror. Not sure how to respond. Not sure what to say.

The mother continued yelling. "I'm going to beat you up when we get home!"

Eleanor and Annabelle's eyes grew even wider. Beat her up? The heavy spankings weren't going to be enough punishment for running toward a park?

I try not judge other parents and their parenting styles. If they spank when I don't? I don't judge. It's not what I want for my kids for many reasons, but man, it's hard being a parent. I know. The struggles from the trenches are real. This parenting? It's a daily struggle. We all are different in our approaches, in our styles: but we are all trying to do our best by our kids.

(At least, most of us are.)

But there are times when I can't stop from judging. And this mom was not just giving a spank to her kid who had been out of line. I couldn't suspend my judgment when the spanking had soared straight past discipline and gone right to abuse.
I wanted to intervene, but of course, what right did I, a stranger, have stepping in the middle?

The girls looked at me expectantly. I couldn't say nothing to them about this. “Oh, girls - that's not okay what her mom just did. That's not disciple. That's abuse. Have I ever done or said anything like that to you?"

They shook their heads vehemently. "No! Never."

"And I never will. Remember this. Remember that it’s not okay. Remember that I love you. Remember it always. No matter what you do. No matter what. I will always love you. Can you do that?"  

They hugged me close. Their little heads pressed tight into my shoulder.

"Yea. I will remember."

"Me, too."

Two hours later. . . and yes, I got another "you hate me, don't you!" shouted at me.

I could have been defeated that they had seemingly forgot the lesson from earlier.
But I wasn’t defeated. I smiled.
Yes, they yell at me that I must hate them. But they also run to me when they are sad. Beg to sleep in my bed at night with me. They want me to play with them at the park. Beg me to tell them stories.

It can be hard to hear "you hate me!" 
I wonder if I’m doing something wrong. If I’m not a good parent. How can they think I don’t love them?

Maybe they don't respect me enough if they yell, “'you hate me!'"

But something in me clicked after overhearing that exchange at the park.

My children are confidant that I won't hit them. They can yell and be angry when they are frustrated, and they know I will still love them. They can voice their feelings to me without worry.
I'll take all of their "You must hate me, mom’s" and wear them as badges of honor.
So, if you ever see me smiling when my children yell "you hate me!" please don't think I'm crazy. Just know that I'll be smiling because I'm remembering how confidant in my love they are to voice their feelings to me. I'm smiling because I'm confident I'll still be the first person they'll run to when they are sick, hurt, or scared. I'm smiling because I'll know that later that night they'll come snuggling in my bed, begging for stories, because deep down in their hearts, the “you hate me!” means "I love you!"

*I'm calling her Nickie because she looked like my friend Nickie from when I was a kid.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mental Health and Homelessness: My Father's Story

It was April of 2012 when I got a call around 11:30 p.m. from the care facility my father currently called home. The owner of the home told me I needed to come and get him ASAP because he'd wandered into the busy street next to the care home and laid down in the street. They were worried for his safety, and not being a locked facility, or having enough staff to handle his now constant wandering off, he couldn't live there anymore. 

I rushed right over, picked him up, and took him to the hospital hoping they'd put him on a 51/50 hold. But at the hospital I made the mistake of telling them all of his medical history. I told them about his mental health history. The brain injury he sustained while homeless. Everything

At the end of the night the doctor in charge of his case told me they couldn't do anything. They couldn't take him anywhere, and were releasing him back into my care. I told them I couldn't take him home. It wasn't safe for my family with two small children there, and I didn't know what to do. Couldn't they help me? Couldn't they put him on that 51/50 hold? 

No, he told me coldly. They would not. 

In desperation, I asked what they would do if I just left him at the hospital and walked away. What would they do? 

Very matter-of-factly, he told me they would take him out to the streets and drop him off. 

Horrified, I told him, no - clearly I couldn't let them do that. Feeling trapped and scared. Knowing it wouldn't be safe for my children to take them home. What could I do?

Tears streaming down my face, I asked him what he would do if he were in my position. 

The doctor looked at me with a mixture of pity and discomfort. "I would drop him back on the streets and hope he dies. Prolonging his life in care homes is more cruel than letting him die on the streets sooner. It costs the government more money. It causes everyone more stress and strain. He doesn't have any quality of life at this point. The kindest thing you can do is to let him go." 

Flabbergasted, I was too shocked to say anything more than, "That is probably the worst thing I've ever heard anyone say. I'll be taking him home with me, then. Thank you." 

I didn't have the words in that moment to tell the doctor everything I wanted to say to him. But I did take my father home that night. I made a bed for him in the garage, and I locked him in until I could find another hospital to take him to, where I hoped we'd get a different answer. 

After that encounter with the doctor that told me to 'let him die.' I spent the next few days piecing together what I wanted to tell that man when I couldn't find the words to express it there in that Emergency hospital room. 

This is what I wrote. 

*   *   *   *  *   *

Everybody has a story. Even the homeless. Even the mentally ill. The so-called 'drains of society' that take our valuable tax dollars for their care. Why should the government pay anything for them? Shouldn't they should take care of themselves? Get a job? Stop demanding more than their 'fair share'? Their families should do it themselves. Not the government. 

I've heard it all.

But everybody has a story, and this is my fathers'.  

He was the second born, in July of 1949.  WWII still fresh in everybody's minds.  As the first son (and it would turn out - the only son), his parents named him after his uncles who had fought and died in WWII: John and Leslie.  Jack, as they called him. He was a happy, and very fun loving baby. 

Most of all, he was cherished.

 His maternal Grandfather, being an avid gardener with acres of organic gardens, grew many enormous bean stalks. When the family visited their grandparents this photo of "Jack in the beanstalk" became an instate family classic. 
 More sisters joined the family.
Five sisters in all. But the brother he always dreamed of never came.
 He grew into a very attractive (I may be a bit biased), and a very smart young man.  He loved trains, and calendars.  In his free time he created calendars for all the years yet to come (at least 20 or 30 years into the future, as far as I can remember).  All of them were accurate. As a child he even calculated that my birthday would fall on Easter every x number of year (I can't remember now how often that is, of course.). Any question I ever had about the calendar, he knew and was always happy to share his wealth of knowledge. In fact, any question I asked, I knew he'd have an answer to.

But somehow, God only knows why, as a teenager he was diagnosed with manic depression and schizophrenia, and ever since he fought a losing battle with this debilitating disease.

Even so, despite the odds, he managed to go on to law school and become a lawyer. A well respected lawyer who was called to substitute as a judge. A high honor, so I'm told.
He met my beautiful mother, they fell in love, and they married.  

However, their marriage was never easy. My mother herself suffered from a traumatic brain injury as a child. After being thrown from a horse and striking her head against a rock she spent six weeks in a coma. Nobody expected she would live. The doctors had my grandparents buy a coffin, grave plot, and tombstone.  But against all odds, she survived.

And they loved each other - oh! How they loved each other.

Their love brought my sister and I into the world (okay .  . . love and his pressing need to father a son and pass the 'family name' onto. Alas, this was never to be. He has had no brothers, no sons, not even grandsons).

In the 80's he opened his own law office where he practiced Family Law. 

As a family, we traveled all over the United States, from Hawaii, to Florida, and nearly everywhere in between. He planned the trips down to minute. He took pictures and video of every detail. He kept receipts, pamphlets, and any memento he could find to chronicle our trips.

He would make brunch every Sunday (when he was home from the office) from scratch. Usually his mother's Belgium waffle recipe.  He read us stories, and he sang my sister and I songs as we fell asleep.

But unlike fairytales, not every love story has a happy ending. 

 His doctor grew concerned how he'd skip taking his medication and then double, or triple, or quadruple up on his medication when he'd miss days. He was warned that if he kept doing this, it would destroy his liver and kill him. He took this to mean 'stop taking your medication, or it will kill you." So he stopped taking his medication. Instead of it killing him, it killed his marriage.

My mother couldn't handle the stress of my father's mental illness when he wasn't stabilized by medication. How could she? She is literally missing the part of her brain that processes emotions and deals with stress.

My parents fought hard for custody. 

He lost.

He fell apart.

Even more than he had already been falling apart. 

He lost his license to practice law, and the practice he'd worked so hard to build crumbled between his fingers.

He lost our home. 

He lost everything.

It is so easy to judge and say, "you should have been taking your medications, Jack!" But life isn't always that easy.  It isn't always so black and white.  With how terrified he was of the medication killing him, I don't know that I can blame him.  Once off his Lithium, the schizophrenia kicked in, and he was paranoid to take any other medications for fear it would all kill him.

It's a catch-22. I try to go down this path of 'what if's' but it's a rabbit hole.

My father lost everything and wound up on the streets. 

"The streets' is not a nice place.  Less than a year after he became homeless, living partially out of a storage unit,  libraries, fitness centers,  McDonald's restaurants, church, and 'the tree,' he encountered the dark side of human nature. 

This is what it did to him.

He was beaten nearly to death and left for dead. Over food.
Over a stupid hamburger.
He had a metal plate put into his head because of a hamburger.

Ever the lawyer - my father wore a suit for many years while homeless.  He was proud. He'd been a lawyer, owned a beautiful home, boasted a beautiful wife, had beautiful children - and then - - he had nothing. All he had left was his pride. For years he refuse any other kind of employment except being a lawyer. He'd consult privately on the side. Help former clients for less pay. His parents paid for an apartment for years for him. Bought him cars - which he wound up losing (literally). They could only help him so much for so long before they just couldn't anymore. In the meantime,  he worked hard on getting his bar license back.  But it was never enough. Even when he did earn his bar license back, it was too late. His health had deteriorated too much by then.

From 1993 to 2006 he lived on the streets.  In 2006 he met a woman who wanted to help him, and she did for a few years, until it was too much for her and her children.  Not only did he suffer from mental health issues, but post-traumatic stress syndrome from his head trauma.  In 2008 he moved back to California where my aunt, grandmother, and sister all tried to help him by living with him and caring for him. But it was too much for them. He is not an easy person to care for, and they needed to work too. Me being a stay-at-home mother, I suggested he come move in with us, despite me having only a four month old. We didn't know what his other options could be. So,  he moved in with my family.  But after about a year it was clearly too dangerous for my baby girl, and with another on the way . . . I knew we'd have to find another solution for his care and living situation.

A person should never have to choose between caring for your parent and caring for your child. But that is where I found myself.

And now? Now he has dementia, PTSS(Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome) from his TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), compounding his mental health diagnosis. His short term memory is shot. He can't remember more than one step directions. He walks out into the street and nearly has killed himself several times.  He needs to be in a locked facility rather in the board and care facilities that I found for him and moved him into after months of tears panicking I'd never find him a place, and then what could I do?

He needs to be kept safe from himself, and he needs to be treated like his a human being, not an animal, or a worthless piece of garbage to be told that there is nothing they can do to help him get better - or be told that he's better off dying on the streets than prolonging his life in a care facility. 

He is human. He has family. He has value. He has worth. 

What kind of society do we live in that medical professionals and social workers that are there to protect and help people like my father, don't value human life? That suggest finding him a locked care facility is worse than letting him die on the streets?

My father needs to be in a locked facility to be safe from himself.  And to be told that he's not worth the extra money the county would have to help pay for that?

Would your father be worth it? 

Yea, so is mine.

*      *       *      *

Reading this today, a year-and-a-half after his death, hit me hard.

My father was worth every tear, stress, and late night worrying about what to do, and how to help him. He was worth those extra years we got with him being in that locked care-facility we finally found for him. He was worth the money spent to help make him comfortable, knowing he was loved. I am so grateful that not everyone out there had the same opinion as that Doctor I spoke to that one terrifying night three years ago. But he's not the only doctor or person out there with an opinion like that.
And here's the kicker.
The only reason I found that care home for my father is because I lied.

I took him to another hospital the next day and I told them about his mental health, but I didn't tell him about his brain injury. Because his brain injury can't be fixed, the doctor the night before had told me they couldn't do anything for him and they'd send him back out to the streets to die. But when I held back the information about his brain injury, and just mentioned his mental health - they took them into their system, and helped me find him a care-home.  Our system struggles to know how to deal with mental health on it's own, but mental health and a brain injury? It has no idea what to do with those people. They are beyond 'help' in the medical world. So, we put them on the street and hope they're forgotten about, or better - hope they die.

A country that does that is a morally decayed and decrepit society. We have to do a better job of figuring out what can be done for the mentally ill, the brain injured, and the handicapped - the people that need our help. I find myself just as angry today remembering the words of that doctors three years ago. It makes me want to do something to make a change, but I don't know what else to do than other than to write my dad's story. All I have are my words. So, I'm putting these words out there and asking people to see the humanness behind the homeless. Asking that we do whatever we can to start changing the way we view mental health and care for people like my father in our country.

We've got to do better. I can't believe that this is the best we can do.  It's too late for my father, but it's not too late for the millions out there just like him.

What can you do to help?

If nothing else, do me a favor and share my father's story. Remind people that every homeless person is cherished, has family who loves them, has a story worth remembering, and is a life worth saving.

- Heidi 

If you can do more than share my father's story, go to and see what more you can do to help end homelessness in this country.

You can also get involved by supporting, PATH, which is also a community program that aims to end homelessness by providing affordable housing, and helping individuals and families during that transitional period. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Despite Excuses 2015 Writing Retreat - The Zendo

The last three years my writing group and I have gone on a writing retreat somewhere tucked away in Northern California. There are typically about eight of us, but we knew that schedules wouldn't always allow for us to all be able to attend an event like this at the same time every year. This year it just happened that for one reason or another, half of our group couldn't attend. Life. Schedules. It can be hard.

We (ahem - I mea, Laura) found a sweet little spot for the four, The Zendo,  a perfect Redwood getaway near Mendocino. The residence is named so for obvious reasons. I knew it would be great, but nothing could prepare me for just how great this place wound up being. So much natural light. So many perfect nooks and crannies to write in. Situated in the middle of nowhere with towering Redwoods. This is a for sure "I'm going to come back to this place again one day," spot.

The Zendo, Mendocino (Laura Harvey, photo credit)

The Zendo (Laura Harvey, photo credit)

Besides it only being four of us this year, it also ended up turning out that only women could attend. This changed the dynamic of the group somewhat, and we relaxed our structure much more. Typically we hold writing challenges, or prompts every night, schedule in a "Hot Seat" hour for each member, where we looked at what each person was working on to give them feedback, and help with plot or characterization problems.

This year we kind of just threw our hands up in the air, and said "let's just do whatever and go with the flow."
And that is exactly what we did.
Cary, Kathy, Heidi, and Laura

The t-shirts we are wearing were designed by Cary, and made by Laura. They are pretty snazzy shirts. They are pretty snazzy friends.

We took a lot more just solo-writing time. Had a lot more laid-back meal times. Laughed and chatted a lot, as only women can do when there aren't any menfolk around. Indulged in a lot more 'field trip' excursions, such as scampering down Little River Cemetery Sinkhole, exploring the coast on Kathy's fathers' boat, tinkering around the tiny town of Mendocino, and hiking to Russian Gulch Waterfall.

Each of the previous years I was working on a specific book or project during the writing retreat. This year I focused more on my personal blogging and journaling, and took it easy on trying to work on any specific book or project. Another member, Kathy, introduced me to Sun Magazine, which favors publishing personal writing (which I do a lot). As I pursued the publications,  I fell in love with. It reminds me of Readers Digest, without the adds, and all the bits I skipped over. I like the human interest stories. I like reading memoirs, true stories, and essays. All things they excel in.  Sun Magazine is even hosting a writing retreat called "Into The Fire" at Big Sur in October, which I plan to apply for their scholarship to *hopefully* attend (check it out here if you're interested). They hooked me with their opening, "To write about ourselves in a way that touches others and reminds them of our fundamental connectedness, we must be willing to take a leap — with all our passion, fear, and longing — into the fire." 
Yes. That is what I try to do. I write not just for personal therapy, and because I have to, but I write to connect with other people. Oftentimes it is terrifying taking that leap. But it is always exactly what I need. 

I spent some time reading and enjoying the stories published in this publication, and began looking into publishing something through their magazine. But most of the time? Most of the time I spent relaxing in my "Heidi Nest" with a blank screen in front of me.

Just that pause. That chance to take a deep breath and reconnect with 'my tribe' before taking the plunge back into the daily grind of life was more necessary than any 'word count goal' this year.

Scamping Around Little River Cemetery Sinkhole

Climbing down the sinkhole
(Laura Harvey, photo credit)
Channelling my best "Annabelle" pose
"Work it, Cary!" 

Channelling my best "this is a totally comfortable and natural position. I just hang around like this all the time" pose
It is always fun sharing the beauty of this place with newbies. The sinkhole is one of my favorite places. 

There is just something about the booming of the waves adjacent the cave entrance that gets me every time. 

This place makes me happy.

 Around The Zendo

What an amazing view to write with 
The "Heidi-Nest" I'm become so settled into when I'm in 'my zone' 

Working hard. 

Meal-prep and writing time. Peaceful times. 

Hike the the Russian Gulch

Wild Columbine enchanted on our hike to the Russian Gulch

Banana slugs have always been a favorite since I kissed one for extra credit at 6th grade science camp

Pacific Coast Private Boat Tour 

Our brave sea captain/tour guide

We didn't see whales or dolphins, but we saw a lot of these Sun Fish, 
And a lot of these cuties. 

Despite the lack of whales or dolphins, we had a lot of fun. 

Just because it looks cool. 

Not sure how this thing is still floating 

Tinkering Around Mendocino


One of my favorite places on earth. 

This place never fails to soothe.

These people inspire me. They are my tribe. They are incredible people who I am so blessed to have found, and even more lucky to call friends. 

I already cannot wait for Despite Excuses Writing Retreat 2016.